Filipino "Mississippi Boys 25" recount struggles as trafficking victims

By Don Tagala, ABS-CBN North America Bureau
 
Nov. 4, 2013

METAIRIE, LOUISIANA – Known as the “Mississippi Boys 25”, these overseas Filipino workers were recruited from the Philippines and were promised jobs that would pay $7 to $15 an hour as servers and cooks at the Polo Club of Boca Raton — a popular resort club in Florida.
 
But after paying more than $5,000 each for placement and other fees to a recruitment company called C-drive, what they were promised did not happen.
 
They ended up as low-paid workers, living in a filthy trailer home in Purvis, Mississippi in 2009.
“During that time, it was so cold in Mississippi. Our trailer had no heater, no comforter. We were all exhausted from the trip but we couldn’t sleep. We just huddled together,” Henry Sejera, one of the victims, said.
  
A first time overseas worker, Regi Tesoro arrived in Purvis, MS a week after Sejera and was promised a job that pays $7.50 an hour with free housing.
 
Instead of working as a server in a hotel, he was made to work 12 hours a day, six days a week, picking pine straws and turning them into bales at the Southern Mississippi Pine Straw.

“We were terrified because we were threatened of being deported. So no matter how tough the work, we had no choice but to do it. We didn’t have anywhere else to go,” Tesoro said.
  
Tesoro said the most bales they could make a day were about fifteen — that’s roughly a paycheck of 500 dollars a month.
 
While many of them had no Social Security numbers — their employers allegedly deducted about $75 for social security and taxes plus another $175 for renting the trailer home.
 
Tesoro said he also had to send $200 to his family to pay the $5,000 debt he owed a lending company for the recruitment and placement fees.

“I would usually have $50 left for myself. I would sacrifice on food, just to survive,” Tesoro said.
  
After escaping from the trailer nearly four years ago, many of these overseas workers have found a new home in New Orleans after they were granted T-Visas in 2012 as victims of human trafficking.
 
Their U.S. employer, Michael Lombardi of U.S. Opportunities was prosecuted and sentenced to 51 months jail time after pleading guilty to labor and visa fraud in August last year.
 
C-Drive, their recruiter in the Philippines was shut down by the Philippine Overseas Employment Agency (POEA) and two other U.S. agencies were suspended.

“They could just change their name and continue abusing other workers. It would be good if those involved really go to jail and get slammed with hefty fines,” Jimmy Hinayo, another victim, said.
Today, the Mississippi Boys are suing U.S. Opportunities among many others involved in their trafficking case before a Mississippi court for unpaid wages, violation of labor laws and violation of the trafficking law.

“The next step is for them to get their green cards. After three years of having a T-Visa status, they can apply for permanent residency. Their civil case is still pending and we’re hopeful they get the justice they deserve,” their immigration attorney, Ellaine Carr stated.

You may contact Don Tagala at don_tagala@abs-cbn.com for more information.

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  • Kikay Pang0
    5 November 2013 at 8:49 am - Reply

    At least i won’t see any of them competing and telling the world their miserable experienced at American Idol … thanks a lot AI for strict policy.

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